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International Practices in Special Education: Debates and Challenges
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Table 1. The Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Program for Inclusion of Students with Disabilities

Categories of disability

Relevant details
1. Cognition (intellectual) Full-scale score on a standardized, restricted psychometric (IQ) assessment at or below the second percentile and accompanied by associated academic and adaptive behavioral delays
2. Sensory (hearing) Permanent (sensorineural/conductive) hearing loss of 30+ decibels with resultant communication difficulties
3. Sensory (visual) Permanent vision loss of 6/24 or less in the better eye corrected, or less than 20 degrees field of vision
4. Physical Ongoing physical condition (e.g., cerebral palsy, osteogenisis imperfecta, spina bifida) that significantly limits functioning and independence in mobility, personal care, and undertaking essential learning tasks
5. Mental health (social/emotional) Mental health problems at a level of frequency, duration, and intensity that seriously affects educational functioning; behaviors must be evident in home, school, and community environments (a diagnosis of ADD [with or without hyperactivity] is not included)
6. Pervasive developmental disorder (autism) Diagnosis indicating a pervasive developmental disorder (e.g., autism) or disability affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction that significantly affects the ability to learn; diagnosis must also include a clinically significant adaptive behavioral delay
7. Language disorder Expressive and/or receptive language disorder with a scaled score of 70 or less on a restricted, standardized speech pathology assessment (i.e., the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals [CELF])
8. Chronic medical Chronic medical condition that affects functioning and/or independence so that a student is highly dependent on another or access learning


In recent decades “the dominant issue in special education has revolved around the education of students with special needs in general classrooms and neighbourhood schools, variously encompassed under the terms inclusion, inclusive schooling, inclusive education or, occasionally, progressive inclusion” (Winzer & Mazurek, 2010b, p. 87). Although definitions abound, inclusive schooling for students with disabilities can be defined simply as “instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs of children and youth who are exceptional” (Winzer & Mazurek, 2010b, p. 87). Educational institutions should cater to all students, including those with disabilities. The main aim of inclusive schooling is to empower children and youth who have physiological, cognitive, and emotional differences that change substantially the way they learn, respond, or behave.

The 1980s heralded a remarkable international commitment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and schools. As Winzer and Mazurek (2010a) observed, “School systems were prompted to abandon special schools and special classes and instead create socially just communities where students with disabilities could be included into neighbourhood schools and general classrooms” (p. 3). Then “as policy makers and educators around the world adopted the notion that all children had the right to be educated together, they set out to recast the functions, content, processes, and structures of schooling” (p. 3).

Australia was influenced by myriad streams of the progressive pedagogy movement. These included:

  • The American experience. In the United States, the first major federal legislation authorizing funds for compensatory education was the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title I (ESEA). This was replaced by the 1981 Education Consolidation and Improvement Act (ECIA), which continues to be the “cornerstone of America’s compensatory education efforts” (Passow, 1997, p. 85).
         As a form of inclusive pedagogy, mainstream education for students with disabilities was promoted with the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL94-142), amended in 1990 as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This legislation and its amendments have served, and continue to serve, as a model piece of legislation for other countries as they provide education for students with disabilities (Winzer, 2006).
  • U.K. influences. The Report on the Committee of Enquiry into the Education of Handicapped Children and Young People in England (Warnock, 1978), known as the Warnock Report, offered reinforcement for much needed policy reform.
  • International agencies. The 1981 International Year of the Disabled Person offered a significant policy drive by drawing worldwide attention to special education.
  • The European experience. The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on special needs education was the outcome of more than 300 participants representing 92 governments and 25 international organizations who met in Salamanca, Spain, from June 7–10, 1994. Participants considered the fundamental policy shifts required to promote the approach of inclusive education—namely, enabling schools to serve all children, particularly those with special educational needs.
      As policy reform initiative, the Salamanca declaration continued the spirit of similar education reforms in the area of compensatory and special needs. It asserted the
      significance of inclusive pedagogy when it decided that “Regular schools with inclusive orientations are the most effective means of combating discrimination, creating
      welcoming communities, building an inclusive society and achieving education for all.” (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 1994)
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